A decade ago the record industry’s gears clicked along more or less as they always had: Labels signed up promising acts discovered by A&R scouts, paid those acts advances against future music sales, and hawked that music through a sprawling network of radio programmers and retailers.
Today, Bloomberg BusinessWeek notes, with album sales continuing to plummet—in 2004, 666.7 million albums were sold; by 2012 that number was down more than 50 percent, to 316 million—labels and artists depend more than ever on touring and merchandise for revenue.
Songs are ads meant to help sell tickets and T-shirts, and YouTube is beginning to rival radio when it comes to breaking those tracks. Recognizing this, the trade magazine Billboard recently overhauled its formula for determining the most popular music in the country, giving YouTube plays more weight.
The following week, Harlem Shake topped the Hot 100 chart—the first instrumental track to do so since Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice theme in 1984. Five weeks later, it was still there.